Mathilde Cantin – Rudsak
Comparisons with Reese Witherspoon from “Legally Blonde” have been many since Mathilde Cantin earned her law degree from the University of Montreal in 2004. Cantin does bear some resemblance to the actress playing Elle Woods and, like the character, is a fashionista with pink her signature color.
But unlike Woods, who dropped her fashion career to be a litigator, Cantin has distinguished herself as a fashion lawyer. As she tells Vanguard, it’s much more complex than what might come to mind.
It’s also not a single area of law that affect upscale Canadian outerwear, fashion and accessory retailer Rudsak, where Cantin has been general counsel since 2014. Contracting, real estate, project management, e-commerce, financing, outsourcing, insurance, commercial sales, general risk management (including cyber risk, with support from Vars), compliance, intellectual property, labor and corporate, and what-not—it’s all in her day’s work.
“I tell myself that each initiative, each project, each file is a little like a handful of sand that I throw onto icy ground to create a safe passage for the company,” she says. “What is the best way for Rudsak to get to where we want to go without losing our footing? Where is the dot where risk and reward intersect? How do we get our warm boots across to the future of retail and can we anticipate the inevitable storms?”
She’s got game
The first in-house lawyer Rudsak has had in its 29-year history, Cantin is counted upon to advance the company’s interests through versatility. Though Canada’s frosty winters are ideal for selling toasty outerwear, the Great White North is still a relatively small market: 38.5 million dwellers as opposed to the 332 million-plus south of the 44th parallel.
So, like the National Hockey League, Rudsak is intent on retaining its Canadian technical expertise and distinctiveness in design while expanding into U.S. markets. More recently Rudsak has also gone global, fulfilling orders that include shipments to Japan and Dubai.
With Cantin minding the details, Rudsak has pushed its way into American cites that also endure long winters, debuting in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards in 2018 and more recently signing a lease at Long Island’s sprawling Roosevelt Field shopping center.
While COVID-19 was a challenge, it was also an opportunity for Rudsak to rethink its retail footprint on both sides of the border. The retail outlook having improved in general, Rudsak mulls stores in, among other places, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. Expansion, however, necessitates new business solutions.
“We were late in the Shopify game, but we’re now committed to it and completing the migration” she says. “Projects like this require the collaboration of many departments and the expertise of many employees, I am so grateful to my colleagues.”
Rudsak had been using the e-commerce platform for online sales and now integrates Shopify for stores. But implementation has required much coding development, contract review and other protocols that, because of cybersecurity and privacy, can’t be rushed.
“Generally, we want to move quickly in retail, and I take a keen eye on doing that, but also paying attention to detail and ensuring all parts of a project come together in the best way possible,” Cantin says.
As the one-woman legal department Cantin has been for nine years, she exemplifies the “general” aspect of general counsel. For specifics, there’s always collaboration.
“I couldn’t do my job successfully without the people here making themselves available to me and answering my questions,” she says. “They enable me to continuously learn and ultimately serve them and the company better.”
Such collaboration got them through the pandemic, Cantin explaining how the departments found ways to do more with less while ensuring cash-flow. She kept abreast of changing regulations in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and New York—all Rudsak strongholds—partnering with human resources to retain employees and with retail operations to recapture foot traffic.
And there’ll always be new trends for which to keep pace.
Sustainability’s a corporate buzzword, but Cantin says Rudsak shows substance through such initiatives as most of its outerwear, including its Ski Capsule Collection, created from recyclables. Herself a beekeeper, nature lover and mother of two teenagers, she’s proud of Rudsak’s sustainability commitments and says how this has been the highlight of her career.
Like most young attorneys, Cantin honed her skills at a firm, logging five years at the Montreal office of Boivin O’Neil, with Me François Senécal as her internship mentor (now at DSL). The two maintain professional ties.
“He probably did not expect my internship to end up being a lifetime commitment on his part to guiding me in my career but yet, here we are 20 years later, even working on files together where I continue learning from him,” she says. “I was fortunate to have him as my ‘maître de stage.’”
But with fashion being her passion even in her early days as a lawyer, she approached BCBGMAXAZRIA, a chic women’s brand in 2008.
“They said, ‘you’re overqualified but we admire your interest so come on in,’” Cantin recalls. “That’s how I got my foot in the door of fashion.”
Cantin then took her skillset to a Montreal landlord, ACE Holdings Ltd./Galleria, for the next two years. This allowed her see leasing through a landlord’s lens and improve her negotiating skills that are so important at Rudsak.
ACE still wasn’t sure what she was looking for. Foreign languages also being among her interests—Cantin’s fluent in English, French and Russian—she was hired as an editor-translator at Lavery, another Montreal firm. Then a colleague informed that Rudsak needed a fashion lawyer and “you’re just the woman for them.”
No dissent from Cantin. As Elle Woods would say, “What? Like it’s hard?”
“I can chime in as a lawyer, fashion lover and shopper,” Cantin says. “I always have something to contribute.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2023 Edition here.
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